Tommy Pao-Watari on Little Tai Hang, Hong Kong’s Latest Design Hotel

Finding the balance between understated and overdone was a task that architect Tommy Pao-Watari didn’t take lightly when he onboarded Little Tai Hang as his latest endeavor. The Ivy League-trained architect realized there was a need for boutique, serviced apartments, which conceptualized luxury, charm and convenience–themes that yet to exist as a standard in Hong Kong–thus, he created it. 

Curated around the elements of the Tai Hang neighborhood, Pao explained the process of choosing materials that, “would age gracefully and hark back to Hong Kong’s colonial past,” which also directly correlates to the hotel’s motto: Life is about the journey, not the destination. Little Tai Hang was formulated on the basis of being a boutique hotel with many layers, which allow it to blend into local culture and landscape, while still standing out among skyviews and style. We caught up with the Hong Kong-based architect to discuss the driving influences of design behind Pao’s latest project and Tai Hang’s newest boutique.


Tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into the hotel industry.

Architecture and design has always been a passion. My architectural training included urban design, real estate finance, landscape architecture, project management and construction. So when I came across this opportunity in Hong Kong, I thought this was a good chance to apply what I had learned.

I loved the charm and the intimacy of the Tai Hang neighborhood, and wanted to build something special here. It just so happened that a hotel and serviced apartment would be the most fitting type of building to add character and diversity to the community there.


What made you decide to create a less corporate hotel and more unique offering for visitors to Hong Kong?

One thing that I noticed is that there were very few boutique brands like ours on the market, along with the fact that trends in work and travel have changed remarkably over the past decade. With the advancement of technology, people are currently far more connected, mobile, and flexible than they were before. There is increasingly less need for provisions such as fax machines, meeting rooms, desktop terminals, printers, or dedicated working spaces.

Instead, whether they are leisure based or work based, travelers are yearning for more unique experiences, where profession and adventure come hand in hand, and where people can be both creative, productive, and adventurous at the same time. As our lifestyles change, why not our hotels and our serviced apartments too?



Can you discuss the layout of the hotel and the design elements that set it apart?

The intention for the upper tower and the lower podium is that they are interpreted separately with very different design intent. The upper tower portion is designed to maximize the views from the rooms, and the lower podium portion is about blending into the neighborhood and engaging with the community.

The podium is clad in brick, stone, and terrazzo, with an eclectic mix of mid century elements on both the exterior and interior. Interspersed with open spaces, eateries, and al fresco terraces that engage with the street life and allow people to enjoy views of the park and temple. The lobby itself is designed not only as a means of access to the building, but part of a subtle passageway that, once combined with the phase two buildings, provides a meandering route scattered with art, restaurants, and open spaces that hotel guests can wander through as an extension of their neighborhood experience.

The portion above is a very simple and clean glass tower supported by three major shear walls, with a large span, low iron low-e curtain wall to allow for the best views of the mountains and harbor.

The rooms have a relatively neutral palette that are accentuated by stronger color highlights and the artwork, which we chose very carefully to match our room types. I wanted to have a fairly cozy and timeless outlook for the interiors so I intentionally avoided too many flashy contemporary details and focused on a slightly vintage touch.

The challenge here was to practice restraint when making choices–there were many beautiful materials and ideas that I would have loved to apply, but either they didn’t fit the budget, the branding, or upset the balance of the rooms and furniture. I find that there’s always a very fine line between something that’s perfectly balanced and something that’s clearly overdone.



Each room has a variance in ‘vibe,’ what is the reasoning behind this? Do you have a favorite room in the hotel?

Stepping into the lobby of Little Tai Hang is like entering an old friend’s living room; complete with a library, hand-selected artwork by local artists, and a fireplace that gives new residents a hint of what to expect in their rooms above. Room interiors are subtly accented with mid-century touches as well as the occasional highlight of color to add warmth and character. The design intentionally avoids overly flashy or contemporary themes but instead wholeheartedly embraces the simplicity of a home away from home, leaving space for the homely clutter of our daily lives and the personal character that we gradually add to our own spaces.

Aside from the obvious penthouse views and lobby areas, there are places that I’ve grown to love more and more as my familiarity of the building has grown. One is the two-bedroom unit – although it has predominantly more of a mountain view from the living room, it has an increased sense of privacy and intimacy, and also the size and proportion of the spaces is just perfect. I really feel at home in there. Another one is the turnaround table – although this space is a functional requirement for building regulation and normally a back-of-house area, we paid extra attention to the finishing in order to include it in our overall ground floor experience. It became a vital part of our circulation and will act as an anchor space to tie together our phase one and two sites in the near future.



You have four unique animals that tie to the hotel’s themes of fashion, sports, cuisine and architecture. What is the background of these characters—Tiger, Toad, Duck and Monkey—as representations of the hotel’s story?

Our story and brand revolves around four highly unique and eccentric characters–Tiger, Toad, Duck, and Monkey, and each with a strong and peculiar passion that ties them to the charming neighborhood of Tai Hang. Their goals and aspirations couldn’t be further apart, yet somehow their lives happen to overlap in a myriad of delightful stories and humorous encounters that bring to light the many magical faces of the neighborhood. Toad is a fashionista and highly competitive sportsman, Duck is a master chef of local cuisine, Monkey is a traditional dragon dancer and a mischievous prankster, and Tiger is an aspiring architect.

Our central logo depicts these four characters furiously attempting to ride a multi-seated bicycle, but just like so many other things in life, everybody wants to go in a different direction, yet nobody can go anywhere without working in unison. Through the humorous struggle that ensues, they become the best of friends and experience the most unforgettable journeys. 

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